TOXIC GASES in the Earth's atmosphere. Bizarre sea creatures bearing eyeballs on the ends of long stalks. A land with "ferns" growing over 10 m (30 feet) high, but no grass. Giant dragonflies and spiders measuring almost a meter (3 feet). Flying reptiles the size of small airplanes. Giant meteors and massive volcanic eruptions. Sounds like a story for science fiction.
It is a story, but it is not fiction. These are all events in the history of our Earth. We have learned and continue to learn about this story from the evidence preserved in the fossil record. Not all the chapters are written because much of the evidence is incomplete. Therefore, to understand this history and to reconstruct the ancient worlds alluded to above requires a large input of imagination. This is the best of stories, and one that needs telling.
It is also SCIENCE! Simply defined, science is the disciplined interplay of data and imagination. A student's fascination with fossils and ancient, exotic worlds can be tapped in order to have them think scientifically as they use data as a springboard for imagination.
This workshop is intended to give K-12 teachers information on how scientists have used fossil evidence to reconstruct the past. It is also intended to offer some ideas about how to nurture and use students' natural interests in fossils to encourage them to be scientists themselves. Thus the title: Learning from the Fossil Record. Paleontology (the scientific study of ancient life through their fossil remains) provides an intrinsically interesting entry into teaching science and scientific thinking to students in the earliest grades. In higher grades, it can be used to guide students into thinking more logically and critically and to pull together strands of information from several sources in order to solve problems or understand natural systems and the history of life. As can be seen from the activities included in the workshop, there is a broad range of levels of interaction between paleontology and the other sciences, as well as mathematics, thus contributing to a more integrated curriculum.
There is a critical need for greater scientific literacy in the US. Citizens need to have greater scientific knowledge and a better understanding of what science is, of how the sciences have contributed to our society and economy, and of how scientific approaches and information are required to protect the world's ecosystem so that it and we can coexist. In order to address these issues through education, the National Academy of Sciences has produced an extensive set of National Standards for Science Education. The study of the history of our Earth and of ancient life can provide a very "user-friendly" way of teaching science to students, and many of the National Standards can be addressed through paleontological examples. Part of the aim of this workshop is to provide examples of activities that are effective, engaging to students, and also address specific National Standards.
This manual is organized into three sections. The first, "Paleontology and Scientific Literacy", consists of articles that show how important the study of fossils is to science and to society. More than one author makes reference to the distressing results of a recent scientific literacy survey conducted by the National Science Board and the National Science Foundation. There is a clear indication that education is lacking; there are numerous misconceptions that need correcting; and the public is somewhat intimidated by science. Paleontology is a popular science. It is also a comfortable one in which few are intimidated and thus science is not associated with high technology or ivory towers, but is accessible to the public. This gives the opportunity to capture the excitement of learning, to teach what science is and is not, and in particular to teach the process of science.
The middle parts of the manual, "Tapping Educational Resources" and "Learning from the Fossil Record", consist of many examples of resources and activities effective in teaching major concepts in paleontology and related sciences. The activities that are included demonstrate diverse approaches to learning scientific thinking and content. Fossil- bearing sedimentary rocks occupy most of the land surface of the US, so individual teachers and entire classes can actually visit field localities, learn about fossil collecting, and perhaps participate in collecting. Superb examples of many kinds of fossils are available for view and study at museums across the country, and these museums are intended for use by visiting classes. Classes that visit museums can enhance the value of the trip by careful planning by teachers or between teachers and museum personnel. Other useful activities can be done in the classroom, either using fossils or just by using scientific thinking to solve paleontological problems. In addition, vast amounts of information are available through the Internet. Students have access to real scientific data for their own studies, and they can visit museums and field sites around the world. The activities section of this manual includes the gamut from field work and collection to the use of multimedia on the Internet.
The final part of the manual, "List of Resources", is a guide to finding materials and opportunities for learning from the fossil record. Few books and little of the material available in curricular packages are included. Instead, the focus is on information available from sources exclusively or largely by professional paleontologists. This includes information -- and in some cases materials -- available from professional societies, federal and state geological surveys, museums, Internet sources, and opportunities for site visits by federal, state, and local governmental agencies across the country.
There has been an impressive collaboration of efforts to produce both the workshop and this manual. As our knowledge grows and our science evolves, so should the content and resources available for educators also expand. It is felt that this manual is only the beginning. However, a publication such as this has some restrictive aspects to it: costs and time required to update and expand being the most obvious. The use of electronic technology alleviates much of these restrictions. For this reason, a World Wide Web (WWW) version of this manual has been created. The WWW version will be updated frequently and expanded as new activities are introduced. With authors' permission, many of the activities have been enhanced with embedded links within the text to other resources.
The Education Committee of the Paleontological Society (PS) began almost two years ago to plan for this workshop. It soon became apparent that there was widespread interest in the paleontological community in providing more assistance to K- 12 teachers than had previously been available. The PS and the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology joined forces in developing the workshop, and soon thereafter the Cushman Foundation was enthusiastically drawn in. Several of the personnel involved in planning the workshop are located at museums that have active outreach programs, so that there has been extensive use of the resources of these museums, especially the Museum of Paleontology of the University of California at Berkeley and the Denver Museum of Natural History.
To generate a presentation such as this workshop requires much more than just the people who are on site and who contribute to the manual. Steve Stanley, when President of the Paleontological Society, recognized the need for more extensive interaction between paleontologists and K-12 teachers and established the PS's Education Committee with a mandate to initiate that interaction. The PS has enthusiastically supported this endeavor and therefore has underwritten a substantial part of the costs of the workshop. The Museum of Paleontology at the University of California at Berkeley, with the encouragement of its Director, Jere H. Lipps and its Acting Director, David R. Lindberg, extended its ongoing K-12 program to provide substantial resources to both the workshop and the World Wide Web version. The Denver Museum of Natural History generously provided free entry into its exhibits for participants in the workshop. The Educational Programs section of the Geological Society of America provided the facilities in which to hold the workshop. Several individual members of the Cushman Foundation not only donated their time and energies by submitting articles for this manual but also provided fossil samples and other materials for the workshop participants. Brent H. Breithaupt, Director of the Geological Museum, University of Wyoming, and Richard K. Stucky, Curator of the Denver Museum of Natural History deserve special recognition for their role as two of the "founding fathers" and chief organizers of the workshop. We would also like to thank Shell Offshore Inc. for their efforts to promote good education and their support for this project. Without the commitment of large amounts of time, and often of money as well, by the presenters in the workshop and others who contributed to the manual and its WWW version, the workshop could not have been successful. Finally, there must be others as well that we have neglected to mention. We thank all those who helped make the workshop a reality.